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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Raleigh on May 12, 2020.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht February 5, 2021

Cooper exaggerates immediate effect of school reopening bill

If Your Time is short

  • North Carolina's governor said a Republican-led bill requiring schools to reopen is "stripping out some of the health protocols that are in place."
  • Not only would the bill require schools to reopen, it would allow them to operate under minimal social distancing.
  • However, the bill would allow school boards to choose an in-person education option that already exists.

Gov. Roy Cooper says he wants North Carolina school boards to reopen in-person instruction on their own, rather than be forced by state lawmakers.

Republican legislators recently introduced a bill that would require county school boards to offer the option of in-person classes. 

When a reporter asked Cooper about it during a press conference on Tuesday, he said he hadn’t read the bill yet.

"I haven’t seen the legislation, (but) I know about it," Cooper said. "I have some concerns with it, particularly stripping out some of the health protocols that are in place."

Is it true that the GOP bill would "strip" some current safety protocols that are already in place?

The bill would strip school boards of flexibility. (They would no longer be allowed to offer remote-only instruction, unless there’s a COVID outbreak.) However, the bill itself does not automatically strip schools of any health protocols for in-person learning. 

The current situation

In North Carolina, Cooper is giving public school boards some flexibility to choose how they want to reopen. He’s laid out three levels of operation:

  • Plan A: minimal social distancing.

  • Plan B: moderate social distancing.

  • Plan C: full remote learning.

(There are specific protocols to follow for each plan. For the sake of brevity, we won’t get into those details just yet.)

So far, Cooper has given only elementary schools the ability to enact Plan A. Middle and high schools can only choose Plan B or Plan C

The Republican bill would require all public schools to offer Plan A or Plan B, while allowing parents the ability to still choose a remote alternative.

Cooper’s use of the word "strip" could give parents the impression the bill would change health protocols that are already in place. The bill does not aim to do that.

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Following protocols

The bill requires schools to follow protocols laid out in the "Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit" that was developed by the health department, led by Cooper-appointee Mandy Cohen, as well as the Department of Public Instruction.

The original bill told school boards to follow toolkit guidance that "existed on December 4, 2020." On Wednesday, the Senate amended the bill to ensure schools follow the latest version of the toolkit, which was updated on Feb. 2. 

Cooper said Tuesday that 90 out of North Carolina’s 115 school districts already provide some in-person instruction.

Consider for a moment that your school district is already operating under a Plan B model of in-person learning. PolitiFact found no evidence that, if the bill were enacted, health protocols for Plan B would be significantly different from what they are now.

Plan A vs. Plan B

Of course, if the bill is enacted and school boards are able to choose Plan A, one could argue that would "strip" teachers of existing protections.

Plan A and Plan B are similar in some ways. Both require schools to mandate face coverings, conduct regular screenings for coronavirus symptoms, limit visitors, mark the floors to guide movement, and more. (Page 5 of the toolkit features a chart showing how the plans track on 10 out of 11 key guidelines.)

However, there are a few protocols required in Plan B that aren’t required under Plan A, including:

  • Mandating 6 feet of physical distance,

  • Banning more than one passenger per bus seat,

  • Restricting carpooling to family members.

To be clear, these differences are not insignificant. While in December experts found in-school coronavirus spread to be low, experts have also repeatedly confirmed that social distancing and spacing are key to limiting spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers in-person learning with minimal social distancing to be the highest-risk learning model. On MSNBC this week, the CDC director reiterated that schools can open safely only if they continued social distancing.

Our ruling

Cooper said a Republican bill that would require counties to enact in-person learning is "stripping out some of the health protocols that are in place."

He’s right that the bill would "strip" school boards of the ability to offer remote learning exclusively. Also, if the bill is enacted and local school boards opt for Plan A, one could argue that teachers would be stripped of their social distancing protection.

However, a parent whose child attends a school operating under Plan B may hear Cooper’s comments and think the Republican bill would remove some health protocols that are already in place. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

Bill sponsors say the intention is for schools to continue operating under the guidelines outlined by the Cooper administration. We rate his claim Half True.

Our Sources

Video of Gov. Roy Cooper’s press conference on Feb. 2, 2021.

North Carolina Senate Bill 37, "In-Person Learning Choice for Families."

Email and telephone interviews with Ford Porter, spokesman for North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

Email interview with Lauren Horsch, spokeswoman for North Carolina state Senate leader Phil Berger.

Document, "Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit," updated Feb. 2, 2021.

Press release, "Public schools now able to implement plan a for elementary schools," issued Sept. 17, 2020.

Story by WRAL, "Cooper, Cohen, NC education leaders call for reopening more schools," posted Feb. 2, 2021.

Story by NPR, "CDC makes the case for schools reopening," posted Jan. 26, 2021.

PolitiFact stories, "Data shows in-person learning safer than expected, not driving case spikes," posted Dec. 18, 2021; "Laura Ingraham wrong about 'no real scientific basis' for social distancing," posted May 6, 2020.

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Cooper exaggerates immediate effect of school reopening bill

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